Olin Stephens to the Bermuda Roll of Honour

Legendary naval architect and sailor Olin Stephens has been named to the Bermuda Race Honour Roll. A fitting tribute to such a major contributor to yacht design and to a fierce competitor.

From the press release: Olin J. Stephens II has been elected to the Bermuda Race Roll of Honour on the 80th anniversary of the first of his many races to “the Onion Patch.”  No yacht designer has produced more prize-winners over the race’s 102-year, 45-race history.  The overall winners of 13 races, the first-to-finish boats in 11 races, and 45 class winners are all Stephens designs, as are the race’s only multi-race winners-the 72-foot yawl Baruna (winner in 1938 and 1948) and the 38-foot yawl Finisterre (1956, 1958, and 1960).  Baruna is one of the largest boats to win a Bermuda Race, and Finisterre is one of the smallest.

Stephens co-founded the yacht design and brokerage firm of Sparkman  Stephens in 1929 and retired to New Hampshire in 1979.  This past April, he and his many friends in the sailing world celebrated his 100th birthday. 

The Bermuda Race Roll of Honour recognizes extraordinary achievement in or concerning the Newport Bermuda Race and its predecessor races.  The English-style spelling of the award’s name reflects the crucial contribution of Bermudians to the race, which was first sailed in 1906 from New York and is the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race.  Honorees are selected at the time of every race, in even-numbered years.  The next Bermuda Race, the forty-sixth, will start at Newport, R.I. on June 20. 
The inscription on Stephens’ Bermuda Race Roll of Honour plaque  reads as follows:  “Since first racing to Bermuda in 1928, Olin Stephens has competed in boats both large and small, has designed more overall and class winners than any other naval architect, and has done much to make sailing yachts fast and seaworthy, and sailors safe.  We feel lucky to have him as a friend and inspiration not only to the Bermuda Race community, but to all who love the sea and boats.” 

Stephens was 20 when he sailed the first of many Bermuda Races, crewing for the legendary yacht designer John Alden in his gaff-rigged schooner Malabar IX.  In his autobiography, All This and Sailing, Too, Stephens recalled the excitement of a boat-loving young man on first reaching Bermuda. “The green hills and white roofs were part of the race’s appeal. When our anchor was down, I dove over the side to visit the other boats and hear about their races. As one boat after another came in, the day went on-a short swim, and on deck another story.”  He was so thrilled that he ignored his sunburn. “It must have been my youth and enthusiasm that kept me out of the hospital.” 

Two years later Stephens was skipper of his family’s yawl Dorade, his seventh design, when she took second place in Class B.  He subsequently served as navigator, watch officer, or co-skipper of several other high finishers, including his brother Rod’s New York 32 Mustang and two big Sparkman  Stephens yawls, Baruna and Bolero, that between them were first to finish six times and had two overall victories.  (photo: Olin Stephens steering Dorade, 1931, © Mystic Seaport, Rosenfeld Collection, Mystic, CT)

Olin Stephens’ contributions to the race and ocean racing extend beyond the trophies won by the boats he designed and sailed.  For many years he advised the race’s organizers on measurement rules and safety requirements, and after the catastrophic 1979 Fastnet Race in England, he co-headed an important technical study of the problem of capsize that led to safer boats.  His long service to ocean racing is also recognized in the Olin Stephens Ocean Racing Trophy for the best combined performance in the Newport Bermuda Race and the Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race.

The Bermuda Race Roll of Honour was founded on the race’s 100th anniversary in 2006.  Six sailors were selected.  Thomas Fleming Day founded the race.  Clarence Kozlay and Robert Somerset saved the lives of ten men from a burning schooner in the 1932 race.  Sir Eldon Trimingham, a Commodore of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club (the race’s co-organizer with the Cruising Club of America), helped run the race for many years. 

Carleton Mitchell’s three consecutive wins in Finisterre in 1956, 1958, and 1960 set a record that nobody has come close to matching.  And George Coumantaros holds the record for most elapsed time victories in his yachts named Boomerang, and has sailed in 26 Bermuda Races, the second most by any sailor.  All but Coumantaros are deceased. Carleton Mitchell was awarded his Roll of Honour plaque soon before his death in 2007.

Five Bermuda Race veterans serve on the Roll of Honour selection committee.  Warren Brown and E. Kirkland Cooper represent the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, Kaighn Smith and Owen C. Smith represent the Cruising Club of America, and the committee is chaired by John Rousmaniere, a member of the Cruising Club of America.

By Ocean Navigator